Let’s Celebrate the Earth… It’s Earth Day 2017!

Without environmental awareness and action, this magnificent Brown Pelican would no longer be flying. By the 1960s, DDT, which was used extensively in controlling insects, had come close to wiping out the species.

On April 22, 1970, I was running a recruitment campaign for Peace Corps at the University of California in Davis. It was one of those beautiful spring days in the Central Valley of California where green grass covers the valley floor and pushes on up into the foothills, the birds are busy declaring their love, and everything seems to bloom at once.  Inspired, I had gone out for an early morning walk along the American River in Sacramento before heading to work. When I arrived on campus around 9:00, booths had sprung up across the large open quad that is the heart of the University, and a sense of excitement filled the air.

It was Earth Day I, ground zero in America’s efforts to save its environment, to return to an earlier time in American history, back before our rivers and air became a cheap way to dispose of industrial wastes, back before the value of our remaining wild areas had only been measured in the minerals that could be mined, or oil that could be produced, or trees that could be cut down, back before agricultural production was determined by the number of poisonous chemicals we could pour on plants and the antibodies and hormones we could pump into our livestock, back before America’s ‘greatness’ was measured in terms of how many times we could blow up the world with our nuclear weapons, and the amount of wealth that could be concentrated in the top one percent of our society.

Rachel Carson had provided the initial impulse for the environmental movement with her classic book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The original idea for Earth Day had come from US Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin, after he had witnessed the devastation caused by the Santa Barbara oil spill. He had noted student activism on American college campuses in support of human rights and in opposition to war and felt that some of the energy might be captured for saving the environment. Nelson had recruited Senator Pete McCloskey, a moderate Republican from California, and the two of them had gone on to organize the nation-wide teach-in on college campuses that had become Earth Day I.

I had quickly given up any pretense of recruiting for Peace Corps that day and instead spent my time walking from booth to booth and talking to young people and organizations about the challenges we faced on the environmental front, about their hopes and dreams for the future. Something happened to me that day. I became a believer in the importance of turning back the clock, of making America great again from an environmental perspective, and of redefining progress to include clean air and clean water, and wild places we could still enjoy and escape to.

Within two months, I had left my job as Director of Peace Corps Public Affairs in Northern California and Nevada and become Executive Director of a fledgling environmental center in Sacramento. On a national level, 1970 saw creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. But the battle was just beginning. And nowhere was this clearer than in California. The then governor of the state, the man who would be president, Ronald Reagan, had already declared in the battle to preserve the redwoods, “…a tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” The timber industry, and apparently, the governor, still looked at a 2000-year-old forest giant and saw 480,000 board feet of lumber.

Redwood

This ancient redwood is located in Redwoods National Park on the northern coast of California. Is the approximate three million dollars worth of lumber that cutting it down would bring worth more than its beauty or the 1500 years it has taken to produce it? Or to the joy it will continue to bring to our children and grandchildren for generations to come?

In 1990, Earth Day appropriately went international. Some 200 million people in 141 countries carried the fight for clean air, clean water, and for the protection of wild places and wild animals onto the world stage.

Today, in the US, after 50 years of making progress in cleaning our air and water, in saving endangered species, in setting aside wild and beautiful areas, in developing clean energy, and in recycling our waste, the man who is President has declared war on environmental protection. He has proposed drastic cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and appointed a man to head the agency who is a dedicated opponent of the organization. He has denied the science behind global warming and moved to pull the US out of international efforts to solve the problem. And this is just for starters according to his campaign promises. Apparently “Making America Great Again” includes returning to the days when making a profit always trumped protecting the earth. But who knows? Our President is known to change his mind.

But the battle to save the earth, and that is what it is, is not just a US problem; it is a world-wide problem. It doesn’t matter today whether you are reading this post today from Nigeria, or Australia, or France, or Canada, or England, or Russia, or Brazil, or Singapore, or any of the other 160 countries from which people frequently or occasionally check in on my blog, the fight for clean air and water, for healthy food, for wild places, and for wild animals is a fight for all of us. Future generations of people, not to mention lions and tigers and frogs and trees and elephants and butterflies will say thank you.

The photos today (taken by Peggy and me) are to remind us of just how precious this world we live in is.

 

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the World’s great natural wonders. There were plans to dam the canyon and flood it with water until people who loved its beauty stepped in and stopped the effort.

The world is full of natural beauty… including this waterfall in Milford Sound, New Zealand.

Sunset at Sea Kayak Adventure's campsite on Hanson Island in Johnstone Strait. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Sunset in Queen Charlotte Strait off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Scotch Broom found on the American River Parkway. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Scotch Broom found along a wild roadside in Scotland.

Yosemite's Half Dome captured on a hazy day. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

John Muir who wandered the Sierra Nevada Mountains was the founder of the Sierra Club and an early conservationist. His love of Yosemite led to national protection for the area, and the photographer, Ansel Adams, would make Half Dome, seen here, world-famous. I have spent 50 years of my life wandering the Sierras.

The deserts of the world have their own beauty. This is Death Valley.

For my last photo today, I can’t resist posting a picture from our front porch in Southern Oregon that I took a couple of months ago. Peggy and I are blessed to live in an area of great natural beauty. Every day we are reminded of the importance of protecting the environment.

 

Happy Earth Day from Curt and Peggy!

 

30 comments on “Let’s Celebrate the Earth… It’s Earth Day 2017!

  1. You have known and felt firsthand the beginnings of environmental protection and outlined your journey well. I agree with you that all may be lost with this administration. Thanks for these beautiful pictures, reminders of why we need to honor the earth every day, not just on April 22. Thanks for caring.

    • I think we have come too far for it all to be lost, Rusha, but I hate to see the regression and the damage it can do. And I get frustrated that we have to continue to fight the same battles over and over and over because people lack the vision to see the impact of their decisions. –Curt

  2. Keep shouting, we are listening to you on the other side of the Atlantic. The deniers are a relatively small population (though powerful), but there are vast numbers who are not tuned in to the problem at all, let alone its urgency.

    • It is one of those two steps forward and one step back things, Hilary. But we haven’t seen anything like the Trump Administration since Reagan, and Trump seems worse. But as I said, you just don’t know what he is going to do. But people will keep shouting, and just possibly it will be a wake up call. –Curt

    • That’s what it takes, Gerard. Eventually we will win. We have to. And we are making progress. I’ve been in this fight for 47 years. The US is in a step back phase now, like it was when Ronald Reagan was President— and maybe worse. I was really impressed with the Earth Hour program. Good for Australia! –Curt

  3. Thanks for your caring Curt. And for all your years fighting the good fight. No matter how dark it gets I do believe there is good change coming. I think all the ‘darkness’ is being brought into the light to be transformed. I hope so anyway.
    Alison

    • We have made progress, Alison. And there is no doubt about it. If nothing else, things like renewable energy and recycling make economic sense and will drive change. As for the ‘darkness of the moment,’ it’s scary. Ultranationalism can lead nowhere but to bad places. One would think that World War II would serve as a reminder to just how dark. Again, however, I think the forces pointing toward international solutions to international problems will eventually carry us to much more rational and unified world, assuming we can avoid destroying each other in the meantime. –Curt

  4. MAGNIFIQUE post, Sir!!! – btw, Earth Day should be every day! 🙂 WHY?… ’cause: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children. We cannot command Nature except by obeying her. Take care of the earth and ‘she’ will take care of you.”(Native American wisdom)

    • “MAGNIFIQUE” I love the French language. And I really liked your quote, Melanie. If my memory serves me correctly, it comes from Chief Seattle, one of the most eloquent appeals for nature, ever. –Curt

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